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Welcome Norbert Vasen, New Expert in the Energy Efficiency Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

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Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Jun 17, 2021 11:45 am GMT
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There’s a lot of discussion about where to most cleanly and affordably get the next source of power generation on the grid, but one truism remains that became a ‘catchphrase’ if you will for good reason: the cheapest kilowatthour out there is the one that’s not used. Energy efficiency is a key tool to making sure supply and demand are in alignment and that clean energy goals are met, and while it alone won’t solve for climate challenges it makes the other tools out there much more likely to succeed.

At Energy Central, we’re constantly looking to add new thought leaders to our roster of the Energy Central Network of Experts to provide guidance, advice, and insights to the platform as a whole on what’s happening in the industry, and with everything happening in Energy Efficiency these days that couldn’t be more important or timely for our Energy Efficiency Group. Because of that, it’s my pleasure to welcome our latest expert, Norbert Vasen, CEO of Birdseye Energy Consulting.

Norbert tells people that he’s on a mission to bring more energy managers into the industry a way to make sure that these efficiency considerations get top billing on the utility and customer side. In this mission, he’s agreed to join me for a session of the Energy Central Power Perspectives ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series’:

Matt Chester: One of the reasons we love doing these interviews is it gives us the ability to introduce you and your expertise to our community so they know where and when to look for your expertise. So I’ll give you the floor to do just that: what is your background in the energy industry and what do you do today?

Norbert Vasen: My background in the energy industry is my passion about the technology of energy production and consumption.  However, if we want to continue to play with this toy, we must promise mom that we won’t use it in the wrong way.

That’s how we come to what I do today. It is to contribute to sustainability. I want to hunt down inefficiencies on the production or on the consumption side. For the sake of focus, I founded the Birdseye Energy Consulting GmbH company in Switzerland, providing Energy Efficiency consultancy to the industry. Because of COVID, the interest plummeted, or maybe the fear to meet outsiders increased, so I am trying to find a solution and think I found it in my new role as Distant Energy Manager.

I also taught Energy Management in Industry at an evening school in Zürich and Bern. The school closed the department so I founded the worldwide online Birdseye Energy School for technical employees of industry, which want to upgrade themselves to medium level Energy Managers.

 

MC: You talk about your quest to bring more energy managers to the industry—what exactly does that mean? And given that our audience at Energy Central is the utility professional and decision-maker, what role can they play in getting more energy managers into the fold?

NV: The idea behind more Energy Managers is that finding Energy Conservation Opportunities (ECOs) is a huge job. Every situation is different and needs a person that not only knows the enterprise, but also how to find and assess those opportunities in that particular situation. Well, the technical employees that know the place are certainly available in each company. They will be happy to upgrade themselves with an inestimable skill set, obtain more worth on the job market and help the enterprise to become greener. That is a win-win situation. The cost of this capacity building is very low because not everybody must be a CEM and the results will be great.

My quest is about medium level Energy Managers. Every organization has different levels of their staff in order to strike the optimum balance between decision-making and execution. In the same way, I see an ideal situation in an energy team with a certified professional and a number of executing members. The team should be appropriately sized to the yearly energy bill and the ambition of the enterprise to become sustainable. For smaller organisations, let’s say < 500’000 USD energy bill/year, one such medium level Energy Manager is enough.  Nowadays, you even don’t find him/her in much larger enterprises here in Switzerland.

If utilities have a concrete and genuine interest in the Energy Efficiency of their customers, they have in my view the following ways to improve the situation:

  • Promote the capacity building of medium level Energy Managers
  • Offer dynamic energy tariffs to smaller clients, like https://www.next-kraftwerke.de does in Europe. This will really help the Utilities to transport more energy in a given infrastructure. In my blogs and in my webinar to the Indian government I gave some exciting approaches to avoid the summer peaks on the power grid. Store the cold rather than the electricity and you will spend much less on batteries. Batteries are good but much energy is anyway converted into cold, heat or maybe some material commodity. Why not start to store cold, heat and those commodities? This will allow to make more use of dynamic energy tariffs. These dynamic tariffs will make utilities happy and give more work to the Energy Managers.
  • Another concept I introduced in my blogs is the Distant Energy Manager. In a period that enterprises are trying to keep the doors closed to outsiders, the utilities can “send” their experts to the clients to assess the situation (tele-diagnosis) and coach the customer to optimization (therapy). This coaching will be at the same time save energy and teach the customer how to do it themselves, because contrary to the usual consultant-client relationship, the client is more engaged in the process. I am myself working with beta test clients for Distant Energy Management and would like very much to offer my services globally.

 

MC: Why do you think it’s so important to focus on energy efficiency during a time when the industry seems more concerned with focusing on clean generation and new grid technologies?

NV: According to www.eurima.org/energy-efficiency-in-buildings/trias-energetica, describing the Trias Energetica, a model developed at the Technical University Delft in the Netherlands, Energy Efficiency comes before production of energy (renewable or not). It says “Only when a building has been designed to minimize the energy loss, should the focus shift to renewable energy solutions, such as solar panels or heat exchange and recovery systems.” This is valid for buildings and for other energy consumers like industrial plants. The reason is that energy wasting consumers need more capital on the suppliers side to remain in operation. This capital is not only represented by wind turbines or coal plants, but also by the transport and distribution infrastructure (lines, transformers, etc).

 

MC: As you work in this field towards your mission, what aspect has surprised you the most and do you think would be most surprising for our utility audience to learn about?

NV: Most surprising is to find medium and large enterprises with energy bills of up to 2 million Swiss francs, which don’t know where their energy is going after the main meter. It is like a Profit & Loss Statement with only the Revenue. There is no Energy Transparency. There are also no Energy Managers or very few. With so much money on the table, there is no one to take it. The only reason that I can explain it is that decision-makers think that an Energy Conservation Opportunity (ECO) is all about kWh and a few dollars. They forget about the collateral benefits that are often a big bonus on the savings on the bill. If these benefits can be expressed in dollars, all the better: you can add it to the savings and drastically improve the return on the ECO. If not, these benefits can be expressed in more prestige, higher safety, more comfort and more goodwill and proud of the employees. The reader can certainly find even more non financial benefits.

Another surprise is that I didn’t find an adequate instrument to do the Energy Audit. In 1990 I made, inside a team, one of the first portable electrocardiographs. That enables the cardiologist to get a lot of data of the heart, with 12 different but synchronous signals, on the spot. And to translate them, according to a database of known patterns, into a diagnosis. Without that, the cardiologist of today hardly takes any decision. Imagine now transferring this idea to the Energy Audit, enabling to see 6 or 12 different consumption curves from main equipment all over the factory? You will recognize the idea of an usual Energy Management System. That is indeed already the state of the art. But it is too cumbersome for the Energy Audit. What you need is a mobile set, just like the cardiologist brings in his bag. I developed it and applied for a patent. In the mean time I have a trademark on it: the Energy Consumption Graph (ECG™). The consultant can take it to the client and carry it away after a week or so and include a rent cost into the consultancy fee.

MC: The coming decade is no doubt going to be transformative for the energy expert. What potential outcome has you the most excited? And what has you most concerned?

NV: Tele-Saving by the Distant Energy Manager is something that excites me. The industries in Switzerland or Italy, where I work most, have two reasons to procrastinate Energy Efficiency in this period. They are afraid of contagion and they are worried about surviving. With Tele-Saving I can take the worry for contagion away. A collateral benefit of this Business Model is that the customer is learning a lot by being the hands and the eyes, through which all info and action is going. It is in fact a kind of coaching, where the Distant Energy Manager looks over the shoulder of the student. B2B coaching is a business that is growing quickly, so Tele-Saving might be accepted well by the market. In this way, and with the arguments of my previous answer, I hope to take away also the second reason for procrastination (I mean the struggle to survive the crisis).

I want to show that Energy Efficiency has nice characteristics if you see it with the eyes of an investor. The yield in % is high and the cash flows are pretty predictable. So an entrepreneur with an investor’s mindset will prefer not to procrastinate anymore.

 

MC: As an expert on Energy Central, we’re definitely looking forward to the insights you’re going to be able to bring. Can you share what it is about Energy Central that compelled you to get involved and integrated with the community? And what should community members look forward to you bringing to the table as our newest expert?

NV: I like the high level of the discussions going on at EnergyCentral. The participants are from the practical world. Also the moderation is very good. In several LinkedIn groups about energy I see a long list of promotions and it is a lot of effort to find the grains between the gravel. EnergyCentral does also a lot to sort the content and convey it into the subsections. I think that makes readers enjoy to come back.

I would like to bring my message onto the stage, how to make industrial Energy Management easier and to discuss my views with others, where this easiness is impossible. That is where Energy Efficiency shows its real character and which, in my view, makes this activity so unpopular. It is the fact that every situation is different, so each Energy Conservation Opportunity (ECO) must be tailor made. Moreover, Energy Efficiency is in every corner, so decision-makers have the impression that it is too diluted to worry about. It is really a big wilderness for many entrepreneurs. I will be very glad to answer questions, which will help me to keep learning myself. I’m excited to start looking and have a shortcut key on my Mac that puts me right onto the EnergyCentral platform.

 

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Thanks again to Norbert Vasen for joining our Expert Network and sharing his time and experience with the community. As you see Norbert engaging across Energy Central, be sure to share any comments or questions with him to tap into his wealth of knowledge!

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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